The Guytrash, Brighouse

One of the most common motifs in English ghost-lore is the phantom black hound: in North Yorkshire it is known as the barguest; in Lancashire as skriker; in Cumbria as the capelthwaite; in Somerset as the girt-dog; in Devon as the yeth-hound; and—most famously—in East Anglia as Black Shuck. The motif has been exploited extensively in literature: Charlotte Brontë references the belief at a pivotal scene in “Jane Eyre”; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle built an entire novel around the belief with “The Hound of the Baskervilles”; while J.K. Rowling has recently introduced a new generation to such lore through the Grim in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”.

In the West Riding of Yorkshire, the phantom black hound was known as the guytrash or padfoot—for convenience this former term will be used here. Most towns and villages in the county had a guytrash—sometimes even individual streets could claim their own spectral canine guardian—and Brighouse was no exception. Sadly, however, details of the tradition in the town are sparse: it is only mentioned in passing by Joseph Lucas in “Studies In Nidderdale” and Samuel Dyer in “Dialect of the West Riding of Yorkshire”—published in 1882 and 1891 respectively. Fortunately, however, we can fruitfully reconstruct the legend from comparable traditions elsewhere.

In an unpublished fragment written in 1837, Branwell Brontë describes the guytrash around his home in the Worth Valley as “a spectre not at all similar to the ghosts who were once alive, nor to fairies, nor to demons” which typically appeared as “a black dog dragging a chain”. Another source claims that the guytrash was “the size of a small bear, black with shaggy hair and large eyes like saucers”; it “uttered a roar unlike the voice or any known animal” and walked with a distinctive “shog…shog…shog” sound.

Discussing the tradition in 1888, the antiquary Charles Hardwick notes “when followed by an individual (the guytrash) begins to walk backwards with his eyes fixed full on his pursuer and vanishes at the slightest momentary attention”. He adds that the guytrash was often seen to disappear into rivers and other bodies of water; whilst “at other times he sinks at the feet of the person to whom he appears with a loud splashing noise, as if a heavy stone was thrown in a miry pond”. The antiquary speculates that the dialect name “guytrash” might even be an onomatopoeic representation of this characteristic sound.

The guytrash was a source of considerable dread to the uneducated classes of the 18th and 19th Century and William Harbutt-Dawson noted that in Skipton “nothing more effectively cleared the streets than the report that t’guytrash was out”. If an unwary traveller encountered the guytrash, the fiend would often pursue its victim and sometimes cause bodily harm. Rev. Alfred Easther records the story of an Almondbury resident who was followed by the local guytrash as he was fetching home a pail of milk one evening. As the unfortunate man reached his house, he was seized by a paralysis in his arms and only just managed to get through the door before the beast was upon him.

On other occasions, the guytrash caused no harm itself but appeared as an omen of death or misfortune either for the witness’s family or some local worthy. Charles Hardwick writes, “(the guytrash) generally appears to one of the family from which death is about to select his victim and is more or less visible according to the distance of the event”. As a death-omen, the guytrash is perhaps a descendent of the Gabble Ratchets: an airborne flight of baying hell-hounds whose passage over a house similarly portended the proximity of death. This tradition was probably itself a descendent of pre-Christian traditions such as the Anglo-Saxon Wild Hunt or the Celtic Cŵn Annwn.

Sadly, there is no surviving record to suggest which specific places Brighouse folk once believed to the guytrash to haunt. Typically, however, the most likely places to an encounter such beasts were areas that could be described as “liminal”—i.e. borders, boundaries and thresholds. Folk religion perceived such spaces holistically; liminal regions were not merely physical/geographical borders but also spiritual ones—at which denizens of the Otherworld could cross into our own. Examples in England include gateways, ruins, crossroads, wasteland, churchyards, bridges, wells, parish-boundaries and so forth; all of which attracted rumours of the supernatural over the centuries.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of guytrash-lore is the fact that whilst a large black dog was its favoured incarnation, it was essentially “protean”—i.e. exceedingly variable; readily assuming different shapes or forms. Sometimes it appeared as a goat or a bear, but on other occasions its guise was infinitely more bizarre: Branwell Brontë notes that the Worth Valley guytrash sometimes adopted the aspect of “a flaming barrel bowling across fields”; it was once reported as a rolling woolpack in Almondbury; whilst around Todmorden it was seen as a dirty white rag hanging from a thorn tree—which in a cotton-weaving milltown must have made walking after dark a terrifying undertaking!

Although we do not know which areas of Brighouse the guytrash once haunted, its favoured shape in the town has fortunately been recorded: a local man named Sam Blackburn told Samuel Dyer that in his home town the guytrash appeared as “an evil cow”! Whilst the image of burly mill-workers cowering from supernaturally malevolent cattle may strike some as regrettably Pythonesque, it is scarcely more absurd than the good folk of Elland cowering from a spectral mouse at Long Wall—which as an omen of misfortune was essentially the local variant of the guytrash. Equally, residents of both Cowling and Rochdale were once afraid of a phantom rabbit!

By the late 19th Century, the vast majority of correspondents who related such traditions to industrious Victorian folklorists were adamant that the guytrash was a thing of the past and had been seen for the last time a generation ago or more. Discussing the guytrash than once haunted the outskirts of Bradford, William Cudworth wrote that it “left Horton when the district was incorporated, as it had grown jealous of the policemen”. Other sources claimed that the fiend had retired following the introduction of street-lighting, or because modern agriculture had destroyed the thickets in which it liked to hide. Whatever the reason, few feared molestation by the guytrash anymore.

Granny Hall, Slead Syke

As the name suggests, Granny Hall Lane once ran by an ancient edifice known as Granny Hall. It is unclear exactly when the house was built, but it undoubtedly stood in the first half of the Seventeenth Century, as plasterwork in the master bedroom was noted for bearing the arms of King Charles I, who was executed in 1648. The redoubtable local historian, Joseph Horsfall Turner was born at Granny Hall in 1845, but he survived his birthplace, which was demolished in 1907 to reach a bed of sandstone for quarrying. Rose Gardens, at the junction of Blackburn Road with Granny Hall Lane, roughly marks the site of the house today. Supposedly the cellars were never properly filled in, which why the gardens are now suffering from subsidence.

The former grounds have been entirely smothered by modern housing developments and in 1997, a family with a daughter named Sarah moved into just such one residence in the vicinity of Rose Gardens. Over the following years, the family noticed a degree of low-level poltergeist activity in the house and were aware of a “presence”. However, it was only around 2001 that a potential explanation for these occurrences emerged. By this time, Sarah was seven and she had apparently gained an imaginary friend named Chloe. When her mother interrogated her daughter about Chloe, “She said she was the girl who lived in the big house and pointed to the right of her room in the direction of what is known as Rose Gardens on Granny Hall Lane”.

Even more curiously, Sarah added that “Chloe didn’t go to school and she had long yellow hair in a bow and a white dress over a black dress… (and) boots (with) lots of buttons”. This struck Sarah’s mother as an unusually imaginative invention for her daughter, who suffered from Down’s Syndrome, and following Sarah’s revelations, the poltergeist activity began to intensify. The television began to switch itself on in the middle of the night; objects mysteriously vanished, only to reappear weeks later, or else moved about without any visible agency; whilst one evening, the family returned home early to discover every light in the building had somehow sprung into illumination. Sarah’s mother even began to see Chloe herself, albeit infrequently and as nothing more than a shadow in the window-glass.

Eventually, the family consulted a local historian about the history of the area, who told them all about Granny Hall. He was even able to show them an old photograph, which featured “horse and carriage pulling up in front of it and, in the doorway, a lady with her arm round a young girl, and that was definitely Chloe, by Sarah’s description”. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any record of a girl named “Chloe” ever living at Granny Hall and it was not a common English name prior to the Twentieth Century. Nonetheless, a ghost by this name continued to make her presence felt to the family until they moved out in 2009, whereupon Sarah’s mother related the story on the website, Brighouse 247. That web-page has now been removed, but thankfully the story can be preserved.

Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

The Black Swan, Brighouse

Known colloquially as the Mucky Duck, the Black Swan is one of the oldest surviving public houses in Brighouse, along with its near-neighbours the Black Bull and the Anchor. It is located on Briggate, just across Anchor Bridge from the town centre, beneath the towering edifice of the former Sugden’s grain silos. Prior to the flour mill’s construction in the late-Nineteenth Century, the land behind the Black Swan was once known as Swan Fields and often played host to Rushbearing in August and the famed Brighouse Pig Fair in October, not to mention a variety of touring attractions such as the infamous Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie, which passed through the town in December 1870.

The establishment which gave these fields their name (or was it vice-versa?) was originally known as the Black Swan Hotel and possessed three storeys, until the ceiling of the second floor was raised sometime in the Twentieth Century. Like most hostelries in Brighouse, its reputation has gone through many periodic cycles of respectability and, but in the early 1900s it was clearly known as a bawdy house. At the 1903 Brewster Sessions, police objected to an application to renew the pub’s license on account of “the publican habitually employing female musicians”. The license was eventually granted, but only on the condition that no female vocalists were engaged to perform in the building.

In recent years, the pub has gained quite a different reputation. Staff and regulars alike have come to regard the building as haunted following a spate of ghostly sightings since the start of the Twenty-First Century. Bev Jackson, landlady of the pub in the early ’00s often had inexplicable auditory and visual experiences; most dramatically, on mornings, before the pub opened for business, she often witnessed the visage of an elderly gentleman smoking a pipe sat at a table near the door. Her daughter, meanwhile, saw the apparition of a young man walk straight through the pool table and adjacent wall. Regulars suggested it could be the spirit of a former landlady’s son, who’d died of a drug overdose several years earlier.

An informant who worked behind the bar at the Black Swan during the last decade, claims that many members of staff refused to work in the pub alone and especially avoided the cellar, due to its uncanny atmosphere. On one occasion after hours, a barman was working in the basement in the process of closing up, when the door suddenly slammed shut and bolted itself. His fellow employee returned from swilling out a bucket in the yard to discover him beating frantically at the cellar door to be release. He angrily accused the barmaid of shutting him down there as a joke, but she denied it and to their knowledge, they were the only people left in the building.

A spectre known as the “White Lady” has also been seen on a couple of occasions and bar-staff would frequently experience the sensation of a woman brushing past them as they served. Local folklore attributed the phantom to a girl who had worked as a barmaid at the pub in the Nineteenth Century and been engaged in an affair with one of the stable hands. When she fell pregnant and her lover refused to acknowledge her or the child, she hanged herself from a beam on the third-floor of the building. Following the raising of the second-floor ceiling, only a low attic now remains of that upper storey. It is said the renovations were carried out for structural reasons, but perhaps the truth is rather less prosaic.

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 13:55  Leave a Comment  
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The Brighouse Magus

The man who would one day sign himself Dr. B.E.J. Edwards, was born Bodgan Edward Jastrzebski in 1860, the son of a Polish immigrant to Halifax. Always a promising scholar, he qualified in medicine from the University of Edinburgh in 1884. It is possible that during his time there he rubbed shoulders with Arthur Conan Doyle who was three years his senior, whilst he almost certainly studied under Dr. Joseph Bell, the inspiration for Doyle’s most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Shortly after qualifying, he changed his surname to Edwards, finding his Polish moniker a hindrance to his medical career. After several years serving as a house surgeon at Halifax Infirmary, he established a general practice, initially operating from 138 Elland Road at Brookfoot, where he resided with his new family. The house stood at the bottom of Freeman’s Woods opposite North Cut and whilst the row was demolished in the 1960s, its ivy-swathed ruins are still visible from the roadside.

Brookfoot at the time was a thriving community, with its own Methodist chapel, Co-op store, school and an abundance of pubs. One such establishment, The Woodman, stood on the corner of North Cut, opposite Edwards’ practice. An outbuilding there often functioned as an impromptu morgue for the bodies of suicides dredged from the Calder, an act for which the riverbank at Brookfoot was notorious. It seems inevitable that as the village doctor, Edwards will have been called to attend such incidents.

Edwards’ career went from strength to strength and in 1895, he was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Southowram (which at that time included Brookfoot). By 1901, he had moved to larger premises at 46 Bradford Road and later took the role of Medical Officer for Brighouse, Clifton and Hartshead. During the First World War, he established military hospitals at Longroyde in Brighouse and Boothroyd in Rastrick, for which he was awarded an MBE in 1920. He died in 1923, following a short illness.

Edwards’ was tirelessly active in a number of organisations during his lifetime, including the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, the Boys Brigade and the Scouts. He also had many more esoteric interests. For instance, he was a Master of Brighouse Masonic Lodge (No. 1301) and with his brother, Louis Stanley Jastrzebski, founded the Bradford branch of the Theosophical Society. Perhaps his most interesting association, however, was with that legendary and influential occult fellowship, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The Golden Dawn (as it is commonly abbreviated) was founded in 1887 by three Freemasons and Rosicrucians, Dr. William Robert Woodman, Dr. William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers. It was an initiatory society, which claimed to be the continuation of an ancient tradition descended from the original medieval Rosicrucians in Germany. This heritage was supposedly guaranteed by its foundation charter, the Cipher Manuscripts, although these documents later proved to have been forged.

Nonetheless, even if the manuscripts were forged, they were clearly the work of an accomplished occult scholar and laid the groundwork for an intoxicating, unified system of ritual magick. The Golden Dawn’s synthesis of the various strands of the Western Mystery Tradition was so comprehensive and compelling that it remains the basis of much occultism today, incorporating Hermeticism, Qabalah, Freemasonry, Tarot, Enochian magic, astrology, alchemy, astral projection and much more.

The Isis-Urania Temple was founded in London in 1888 and it quickly became a dominant influence in both the Victorian occult revival and the entire intellectual culture of the following decade, part of an outpouring of fin-de-siècle decadence memorably dubbed the Yellow Nineties. The society spread rapidly, establishing temples in Edinburgh, Weston-super-Mare and Bradford within the year. The latter was founded by Baildon watchmaker, Thomas Henry Pattinson, in rooms at the Alexandra Hotel, formerly on Great Horton Road.

The Order’s most famous members were undoubtedly the poet W.B. Yeats and the libertine Aleister Crowley (later dubbed “the wickedest man in the world” by the British press for his exploits), whilst a host of lesser-known writers passed through its ranks, including Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and Edith Nesbit. The Golden Dawn was also significant in the proto-feminist movement, with women such as actress Florence Farr and theatre manager Annie Horniman taking prominent roles in the organisation.

Dr. B.E.J. Edwards joined the Golden Dawn in October 1888, making him one of the earliest members of the Horus Temple in Bradford, and adopted the motto “Deus Lux Solis” (meaning “God is the only light”). He quickly rose through the hierarchy of the society and was initiated into the grade of Adeptus Minor on 25th February 1893. As such, Edwards was now a member of the Second Order, responsible for directing the teachings of the junior First Order members.

Achieving this grade required a considerable degree of occult study, which presumably took place at his home in Brookfoot. Edwards was clearly a very learned individual; in addition to his medical degree, he was a noted authority on ancient Egyptian civilisation and an accomplished linguist, who translated many documents from hieroglyphics, Assyrian and Sanskrit. It is evident that a polymath of Edwards’ capabilities would’ve been an asset to the Horus Temple, and he was eventually appointed Praemonstrator, responsible for doctrinal teaching.

During the period 1892-3, the Horus Temple was riven by internal dissent, which forced first Annie Horniman, then Dr. Wynn Westcott and finally Samuel Mathers to travel from London to intervene. The affair resulted in the temporary resignation of T.H. Pattinson as Imperator, to be replaced by Dr. Wynn Westcott, and the expulsion of F.D. Harrison, who had served as Praemonstrator. When matters had settled down again, Pattinson resumed his former role, whilst Dr. Edwards was appointed to replace Harrison.

The original incarnation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn came to an end at the turn of the century for a number of reasons, including the forced resignation of Dr. Wynn Westcott under pressure from the establishment; a number of public scandals which had exposed the society to ridicule; and dissatisfaction with the appointment of Florence Farr to preside over the Order in Britain whilst Samuel Mathers was living in France. Correspondence from 1900 shows that apathy had set in amongst the Horus Temple members.

The Horus Temple finally disbanded in 1902, when T.H. Pattinson, along with Dr. Edwards, began to focus on a Higher Degree of Freemasonry known as the August Order of Light, Otherwise Called the Mysteries of Perfection of Sikha (Apex) and the Ekata (Unity), influenced by Hindu mysticism and the Royal Oriental Order of Sat B’hai. The Garuda Temple was established in the cellars of a pub at 81 Kings Parade in Bradford, with a membership largely cannibalised from the now defunct Horus Temple.

Although, the Order had originally been founded in 1881 by Dr. Maurice Vidal Portman, a former governor of the Anderman Islands, Pattinson and Edwards extensively revised and augmented its doctrines. In this capacity Edwards became one of the most highly regarded Masonic scholars of the early Twentieth Century. Following his death in 1923, the Order published a memorial book titled “Masonic Secrets and the Ancient Mysteries” celebrating his contribution, which numbered the writer Rudyard Kipling amongst its subscribers.

For more information on the activities of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the August Order of Light in West Yorkshire, please see my blog post here.

Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 10:58  Comments (3)  
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Slead Hall, Brighouse

Situated in extensive private grounds at Slead Syke between Brighouse and Hove Edge, Slead Hall is almost entirely obscured from prying eyes. Its profile once dominated the hillside but as the trees and housing around it have grown increasingly dense, the ivy-swathed gates facing onto Halifax Road are the only public evidence of its existence. A house was first recorded on the site in 1316, although the present Slead Hall is thought to have been constructed in 1636. It was divided into two private dwellings in 1910 and later used to hold Italian PoWs during World War Two.

Sometime during the 1960s or 1970s, this building was the scene of a grisly discovery, when during renovations, workmen exposed the desiccated but perfectly preserved corpse of a cat which had been bricked up in the walls, presumably since the house was originally build in the 17th Century. The find was recalled by a member of Brighouse Historical Society and related to the author John Billingsley, who mentions it in his publication, West Yorkshire Folktales.

The profusion of such articles unearthed in the walls or roof-spaces of buildings constructed between the 16th and 17th Century indicates that they were placed there deliberately, not just animals that became trapped and died. Some examples even had their legs bound together to prevent escape, as the desiccation process was effected by placing the cat in an airtight cavity and allowing it to suffocate or starve to death. Such discoveries are often erroneously referred to as mummified cats, but the term “dried cats” is more accurate.

Dried cats are only one of a variety of apparently protective talismans interred in buildings during this period, with witch bottles, horse skulls and even human skulls also popular. A couple of hundred dried cats have been documented across the country, their frequency only outstripped by old shoes. However, oral accounts suggest that countless more have been discovered over the years but not properly recorded, as superstitious owners may leave them in place, whilst others simply do not recognise the significance of such a find.

Indeed, the exact significance of dried cats is still hotly contested amongst academic folklorists and social historians. A number of examples have been found deliberately positioned to look as if they were on the hunt, which has led some deflationary scholars, such as Richard Sabin of the Natural History Museum and curator of an exhibition of curiosities in this vein, to suggest that cats were placed in the walls in the belief that they would deter mice, like some macabre domestic scarecrow.

Yet this theory fails to account adequately for all the facts. It ignores associated finds such as shoes or horses skulls and that such items are typically found concealed near liminal points, especially doorways, windows, gables and chimneys. This seems to favour the more common interpretation that the function of all these items was indeed talismanic, designed to prevent malignant forces gaining access to the house, especially witches, fear of whom was at its height during the 17th Century.

The significance of a cat specifically in this context also remains debated. One theory holds that their use stemmed from the magical principle “like cures like”, aimed at the popular belief that witches kept cats as familiar spirits. Another school of thought suggests that it is a corrupted remembrance of the much older tradition of foundation sacrifice, well attested in Britain during the Iron Age, whereby animals and even humans were killed as an offering to the gods in order to secure protection for the building and their remains laid beneath the foundations.

Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 09:53  Leave a Comment  
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Rydings Hall, Brighouse

Not to be confused with The Rydings, the grand building nearby in which Brighouse Library and the Smith Art Galley are currently located, Rydings Hall is located on Church Lane below the old church school and now forms part of a doctors’ surgery. However, it was originally built in 1926 as the former St. Martin’s Parish Hall, with money donated by local landowner Richard Woodhouse.

The building was not given the name Rydings Hall until the 1970s upon its acquisition by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, when alternative premises were sought following the demolition of Odd Fellows Hall to make way for the construction of the Ludenscheid Link ring-road. The establishment was formerly rededicated and opened by the Mayor of Brighouse in September 1971.

Rydings Hall served not only as a rehearsal space for the band, but they also renovated it to include a auditorium with the capacity to hold five hundred people, in which to stage their own concerts. The facilities were also rented out to other local groups including Brighouse Children’s Theatre and Brighouse Light Opera Society. By the 1980s, however, dwindling membership and attendance led to the sale of the hall.

Following its conversion into a doctors’ surgery, district nurse Barbara Green recalls that medical staff working in the building out of hours were plagued by disturbances such as doors and windows slamming shut of their own accord when there was no draught, whilst both the balcony of the former auditorium and the cellar kitchen were noted for their unnerving atmosphere. None of the nursing staff would enter the latter room alone.

A number of stories circulated to explain the occurrences, including the unfortunate death of woman on a toilet in the building, and even the ghost of Lancastrian variety performer Jimmy Clitheroe, who was supposed to have once performed at the hall. More sinister, especially considering the building’s use, are tales of the apparition of a black dog, which in British folklore has long been regarded as a harbinger of impending death.

Published in: on June 11, 2010 at 18:34  Comments (2)  
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Archaic Stone Heads

These distinctive stone carvings of the human head can be found distributed throughout the South Pennines and represent a unique centuries-old tradition, the exact origins and purposes of which has been the subject of considerable debate amongst folklorists and historians since the custom was first noticed by academia in the mid-20th Century. Lying at the very heart of the region, Calderdale is especially abundant in such images with approximately 150 documented and whilst the upper valley tends to be richer (as is so often the case), prominent manifestations of the art have been recorded on a building at Pinnar Lane in Southowram, on the gateway at Coley Hall and in a courtyard at Shibden Hall, whilst free-standing examples have been uncovered at Shibden, Greetland, Brighouse and Elland.

These carvings have been dubbed “archaic heads” by folklorist John Billingsley (who has written extensively on the subject) to distinguish them from the more obviously representational and finely worked “Classical” head. Archaic stone heads are primarily features of vernacular architecture and whilst they vary in style most appear to be rather coarsely rendered, although this is often a case of deliberate stylisation rather than any lack of skill on the part of the sculptor. Typically, the face is circular or ovoid with relatively flat features, whilst a triangular nose is carved in relief continuous with the eye ridges. Eyes tend to be amygdaliform and lentoid; the mouth a slit or “cigarette hole” lacking lips or teeth. Other characteristics such as the representation of facial hair are occasionally found, whilst some instances are janiform or tri-cephalic.

Common locations to find archaic stone heads on buildings include above doorways and windows and on chimneys, gables and eaves. They are also found on gateways and bridges, occasionally built into field-walls and sometimes buried, especially in the case of the free-standing examples. Their precise function has been the subject of much speculation, but it is generally thought that they are associated with pre-modern concepts of liminality, as they are so often found at threshold locations. As such, they act as boundary guardians and mediators, a physical representation of a tutelary spirit. The fact that many such carvings are found in positions where they are difficult to see supports the theory that they were primarily “magical” devices rather than decorative motifs.

The phenomenon of archaic stone heads first came to public attention in the 1970s when the Director of Bradford Museums Service Sidney Jackson mounted an exhibition of examples he had collected during his tenure. By the time of his death, he had catalogue over 600 instances. Jackson himself dubbed the carvings “Celtic” stone heads, whilst noted Celtic scholar Dr. Anne Ross proclaimed the exhibition represented evidence of a remarkable continuity of tradition in the South Pennines. However, the Celtic designation has been the source of some controversy since Jackson’s exhibition. Certainly Celtic cultures are known to have venerated the image of the head, similarly believing it to possess an apotropaic function and some of the examples uncovered in the region may indeed date to the Iron Age or Romano-British period.

Other examples, however, are much more recent and the tradition was still thriving in Calderdale and surrounding areas up until the 19th Century. Whether this is evidence of a surviving Celtic tradition in the South Pennines as Anne Ross suggests is hard to assess. Some historians such as Ronald Hutton have entirely dismissed the idea of survivals of this nature and antiquity, asserting that many traditions dubbed Celtic by mid-20th Century folklorists are unlikely to be older than the late medieval period. If this hypothesis is correct, then the archaic head represents not a uniquely Celtic icon but one that has arisen in the folk tradition of many different periods and cultures, suggesting a commonality in the collective human psyche which some find just as interesting.

On the other hand, historians base their findings purely on documentary evidence, whilst the whole crux of the folklorists’ arguments is that the oral tradition may have preserved beliefs for centuries before they were written down. Moreover, if archaic stone heads were an isolated phenomenon, then the Celtic theory might not seem so feasible. But the South Pennines is an area teeming with customs for which a Celtic origin can at least be suggested from well-dressing to sacred stones, and there are numerous examples of that other manifestation of head-lore, the screaming skull. It is also relevant that until the 7th Century AD the region formed the heart of Elmet, the last surviving Celtic kingdom in England and that prior to the Industrial Revolution, the area was profoundly isolated from outside influences.

Further support is lent by the justification for the carvings offered by local residents. Some carvings were thought to represent an individual who’d died during the construction of the building on which the image is found, and it has been suggested that this echoes the Celtic practice of foundation sacrifice to ensure the “luck” of the dwelling. A more common explanation is that heads were carved on the building to ward off evil spirits and whilst this is a rather simplistic interpretation of the heads’ liminal tutelary role, it suggests a persistence of the apotropaic function in the local folk memory. As late as 1971 the landlord of the Old Sun Inn in Haworth was advised by one of his regulars to place a carved stone head above the doorway to lay a ghost which was supposedly haunting the establishment.

Ultimately, it will be impossible to “prove” whether such a belief system could have survived for over two thousand years and arguably, it is most prudent to adopt towards the question an attitude of what the poet John Keats called negative capability, whereby you entertain all possible theories without feeling the need to settle on any definitive answer. However, when all the various factors are accounted for, the possibility of an enduring Celtic tradition does not seem so unlikely. There can be no doubt that the design of archaic heads known to date from the 17th Century is remarkably similar to those of heads known to date from the Iron Age, whilst their ritual function has much in common with certain types of magical, pre-modern thinking which were especially characteristic of Celtic culture.

Copyright Kai Roberts

Brookfoot House, Brighouse

The site where Brookfoot House once stood is a lonely, desolate place, seldom visited and often overlooked. This is hardly surprising given how inaccessible the area is. The ruins lie in a tract of dense, overgrown woodland on the steep hillside between Brookfoot Lane running up to Southowram and the industrial estate which clutters the bottom of the Walterclough Valley opposite the Red Rooster. Little remains of the substantial structure today for but the odd tumbledown wall and the course of its foundations, all swathed in nettles and ivy. Nonetheless, the land has not been used for any other purpose in almost a hundred years and you can still sense its absence, a potent testament to the power of entropy and decay.

The industrial estate which stands in the valley bottom is perhaps the only surviving remnant of its Victorian heritage, for there has been activity there since Joseph Richardson founded Brookfoot Dye Works on the site in 1870. It is unclear exactly when Brookfoot House was built. A house stood on the site in the 1830s, occupied by a stone merchant named Samuel Taylor but it was either enlarged or entirely rebuilt by Richardson in 1879, who lived there until his death in 1885. The business passed to Thornton, Hannam & Marshall in 1894 and the house was subsequently occupied by a senior partner of that firm, David Hannam Thornton and his family until the 1920s when it was allowed to fall into dereliction.

Brookfoot House must have been an impressive building in its day, a late Victorian mansion complete with ballroom, billiard room and ornamental gardens. It is scarcely surprising that the ruins of such an imposing edifice in such a solitary place should have left a profound psychic impression and there is a palpable atmosphere in the woods around the site today. It is noticeable that no birds sing in the trees there and the place always feels cold and dank, even in summer. Meanwhile, local children exploring the area have reported seeing a shadowy lone figure in Victorian garb pacing on the terrace where the house once stood and the clatter of hoofs nearby, perhaps from phantom horses on the now overgrown driveway.

5 Church Lane, Brighouse

Church Lane used to connect the centre of Brighouse with its parish church but since 1972 it has been severed by the Ludenscheid Link bypass and the Parsonage Lane car park. Whilst on the north side of the A643, the street continues as a sleepy lane climbing towards St. Martin’s, a small portion of it remains on the south side in the town centre as a barely noticeable conduit between Commercial Street and Gooder Street. Surrounded primarily by the loading areas of commercial properties, it now seems an incongruous location for a residential dwelling but Number 5, Church Lane is exactly that and in November 1985 it was the scene of a significant poltergeist disturbance.

At the time, the house was occupied by Jack and Brenda Mansley, along with their twenty-five year old daughter, Karen, on whom much of the activity was said to be focused. Poltergeist activity has often been correlated with emotionally fragile females but they are more often adolescent or pubescent girls. Glenn MacArthur, a Rastrick based medium, did suggest when he visited the property that the spirits may have latched on to Karen due to the stress of attempting to establish a hairdressing business over the preceding eighteen months. Nonetheless, Karen appears to have been a stable individual with good a familial relationship and was thus not a wholly characteristic candidate for such supernatural attention.

The events themselves included much of the low level activity frequently reported in supposed poltergeist cases, much of which could so easily be attributed to mere absent mindedness. The family would often awake or return to the house to discover lights mysteriously turned on, doors open or taps running. Less trivially, Karen’s married sister Jacqueline visited the house one day whilst the family were away to discover coats strewn across the floor and jewellery boxes emptied as if there had been a burglary. However, nothing had been taken and there was no sign of forced entry. Nobody was found in the house, despite Jacqueline claiming that she had seen the shadow of a person from outside.

The more significant disturbances centred around Karen included the constant creaking of a floorboard in her bedroom at night, as if somebody was walking back and forth across it, and a hammering coming from the walls. On one occasion a three-foot high mirror which was usually propped up against a wall in the room was discovered laid out on her bed beneath the covers, whilst on another, she discovered her birth certificate screwed up in the corner of the room. The events often occurred when the rest of the family was out and it was getting to the point where she was afraid to be in the house alone, especially upstairs where much of the activity occurred.

Medium Glenn MacArthur visited the residence on two occasions. On the first, he claimed to have made contact with the spirit of a young girl who died in the house, speculating that it might be the ghost of Mary Manley, who passed away in 1843 at the age of seven and was buried nearby in the graveyard at St. Martin’s. She was the daughter of James Manley, who had constructed the row known as Commercial Buildings – of which Number 5, Church Lane is a part – in 1836 and whose family became its first occupants. However, it is instructive that Mr. MacArthur had reportedly lost a child himself some years previously and you have to wonder if there was not a degree of projection at work.

However, on his second visit MacArthur alleged to have detected the presence of another spirit, that of an anonymous man who had died in the house sometime in the past. He thought this man was an alcoholic who used to pawn his property to get money to spend on drinking and who was searching the house for something he’d lost or that had been hidden from him. MacArthur believed this individual was responsible for the more substantial occurrences such as the incident with the mirror, whilst the girl had only engaged in more mischievous, low-level activity. However, the medium cautioned that events would yet reach a crescendo before finally dispersing. Whether his prediction was accurate is not recorded.

Published in: on April 7, 2010 at 20:11  Leave a Comment  
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Daisy Croft, Brighouse

The cottages at Daisy Croft, named after a corn mill which had stood on that site beside the River Calder since the Norman period, were probably already a couple of hundred years old when they were demolished in 1905 to make way for the Brighouse Assembly Rooms and they would once have adjoined the Anchor Inn and faced the Black Swan in Queen Anne’s Square. Sadly this formerly thriving area between Brighouse and Bridge End is today little more than a traffic thoroughfare and car-park in the shadow of the derelict silos of Sugden’s Mill. But in July 1887, Daisy Croft was the location of a curious and macabre episode in Brighouse social history.

At the time, the cottage Number 23, was occupied by Mrs. Sykes and her teenage son, who’d moved into the dwelling a couple of years previously. One day whilst the boy was cleaning in an upstairs room, his attention was drawn to a small vent hole in the ceiling. Squeezing himself through the narrow aperture into the void beyond, amidst the darkness and centuries’ accumulated detritus he was soon startled to run his hand over something which felt very much like bone. Unnerved, he hurriedly returned to the light of the room below, carrying his discovery with him and sure enough, on closer inspection he realised he’d found a human arm and leg bone.

A local physician, Dr. Bond, was summoned and concluded they belonged to the right side of a young human female. He also speculated from the state of preservation that when they were concealed, they probably still had human flesh upon them. The discovery and Bond’s subsequent conjectures caused a great stir in the town. Rumours circulated that it was the skeleton of a young woman who’d disappeared some years previously and that when she was found, she was still wearing a jewelled ring on her bony finger. The frenzy was stoked by the fact that Mrs. Sykes began to display the bones in the cottage and charged admittance to see them, attracting hundreds of visitors per day until the police removed the remains for reburial.

Subsequent investigation revealed, however, that the truth was less grisly than many had supposed at the time, although no less bizarre. It transpired that in the early 19th Century the cottage had been used as the surgery of one Doctor Hopkinson. He was regarded in his day as a specialist in a number of diseases but he was also known for having a drink problem and a morbid sense of humour. Some of the older people in the town recalled that he kept a human skeleton in his consulting room and when he was under the influence of alcohol, would delight in using it to terrify his young and elderly patients. Unsurprisingly, the police concluded the bones were most likely to have been left there by Hopkinson, maybe by accident or maybe as some further practical joke from beyond the grave.

The exhibition of human remains was evidently a common practice in Brighouse during the late 19th Century. An article in the Brighouse Echo dated 18th July 1952 records that more than half a century previously a coffin had been unearthed during quarrying at Southowram.  It contained the skeleton of a local landowner named Dan Maude, who’d died at least fifty years before that, leaving instructions that he was to be buried on his own land. The bones were exhumed and placed on public display, with local people charged two-pence each to view the macabre spectacle. However, it is recorded that it was “eventually kicked to pieces by drunkards”. One doubts the outcome would have been any different had the skeleton been displayed in the district in more recent times.